Gareth Ward, Chef Patron, Restaurant Gareth Ward at Ynyshir

The Staff Canteen

As with many chefs Gareth Ward started as a pot wash at a pub in County Durham.

In order to progress in his career he left the north east after picking Hambleton Hall from The Good Food Guide. He has since spent three years with Sat Bains as sous chef before taking up the role of head chef at Michelin-starred Ynyshir Hall in Wales. He became chef patron of Ynyshir Hall in January 2017.

The Staff Canteen had a chat with Gareth about working with Sat Bains, finding and keeping staff at his destination restaurant and his aim to be the first two Michelin star restaurant in Wales.

Not French Onion Soup

Did you always know that you wanted to go down the chef route?

Not knowing what to do with myself, I asked various family members and they said ‘why don’t you become a chef because everyone needs feeding so you’ll always have a job?!’ And that’s kind of what happened.

How did you start out – what kitchen did you start in, did you go to college?

I never went to college because I didn’t really enjoy education when I was at school so I steered clear of that. I went to a place called Seven Stars (Inn) in Shincliffe in County Durham and that’s where I started really.

I was straight into the kitchen as a pot washer and worked my way up to chef de partie. I was there for about three years, it was a pub-style kitchen and very busy.

Did starting in that kitchen give you the confidence to move into a Michelin environment?

I met a guy who’s now a really close friend of mine who came to work with us at Seven Stars, he said to me ‘If you want to progress in life, you want to get out of the North East. There’s no decent kitchens here’. He handed me a copy of The Good Food Guide and told me to pick out my favourites, then we’d look into getting me to go and do a stage. I picked Hambleton Hall and I ended up there for five years.

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The north is catching up with London as one of the best dining scenes in the UK, would you ever go back?

One day. You always have that dream, don’t you, of going home and cooking. It’s definitely got a lot better now than what it was when I was living there. There’s some amazing restaurants, you’ve got Kenny Atkinson, Man Behind the Curtain, The Black Swan at Oldstead… It’s really coming on but at the moment I’m very happy where I am.

When you were working with Sat Bains, what did you take away with you from that experience?

Sat is an incredible chef and so inspirational. What I took away, it’s about flavour first and about thinking outside the box. That’s kind of what he teaches you. It was almost like a finishing school, I’d learned how to cook at Hambleton Hall which was proper classical. With Sat, it’s trying to do something different. When you leave there, your mind’s ready to start creating your own style and thinking about food in your own way which is great.

Would you say that he’s had an influence on your style?

Without a doubt. He gives you the freedom there to create your own kind of food as well – all the menus were written by the kitchen staff when I was there. We all did projects and we all put dishes on the menu and we all had a part to play. We were all creating a style around his place. But now it’s very much our food here at Ynshir and it’s not really influenced by anybody else. The dishes that come out of the kitchen are ours and that’s the way it should be.

You’ve got a kitchen garden – do you have to maintain it and how useful is it?

The kitchen garden’s good but it’s still not in full flow. It still needs a lot of work. It’s very difficult to get stuff out of a garden to supply a kitchen because you don’t realise how much stuff you actually go through until you start taking it out of your own garden! It’s quite a challenge but it’s very exciting to just go out and pick something before service and use it in the kitchen.

Do you think it is important to be working with fresh produce?

Without a doubt. The produce is the most important thing. Forget about everything else, it’s about produce. You can’t produce amazing food out of bad produce, I don’t care what anybody says. Even if you’re using the lesser cuts or the cheaper ingredients, it’s still got to be the best you can find because you can taste it. You’ve got to do a lot less to it as well, it’s got so simple now.

We’ve got no more than three, four ingredients on a plate sometimes. I do a lot of aging of meats so I buy really good quality meat and I age it myself. I just build flavour really – every bit of meat that goes on the plate in our kitchen has been dry aged or something like that so you get incredible levels of flavour. It’s something I’d never done before until I came here.

So you’re trying out new things since you’ve been there?

We’re constantly working on new things. I’d never done fermentation, apart from bread obviously, and we’re big into that now. Preserving, pickling and foraging – we’ll preserve the whole elder season so we can use it all year round. We’ve been tapping the birch trees in the garden, we reduced the water down to a syrup and now it’s on the menu.

What would you say to people who say foraging is just a fashionable thing to do at the moment?

Foraging is out of control in some ways I think. It’s a brilliant thing – I love wild stuff but only if it’s any good. You see a lot of chefs use tons of different herbs on one dish and how many of them actually taste nice? I’ve eaten in a few restaurants where I’ve had dishes that have loads of herbs on them and it’s ridiculous, I don’t even know what half of them taste like. I like things like wild garlic – it’s the best thing you can ever get from the field. It’s not about producing pretty food, it’s about producing food that smashes you in the face with flavour and makes people really take notice. 

Can you tell us a bit about the restaurant and your first head chef role? What is it like having a new team?

We’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s a challenge to try and create something very special to entice people to come to this part of the country. The goal is to make it a destination restaurant but to do that we’ve got to do something very different which I believe that we are doing. That’s my position and my role in the business is to keep creating, keep pushing and trying to put Ynyshir on the map. I’m very open about my goals.


I’m not one of these guys who says ‘I cook for the customer’ or ‘I cook for accolades’ – of course I cook for the customer, that’s why we do it. But I want to be the first two star restaurant in Wales – that’s my driving force at the moment. There’s never been one so that’s what I want to do and I’m open about that. That will really put Wales on the map.

You are as you say a destination restaurant, how do you find getting and keeping staff?

It’s really difficult to get staff here because it’s really difficult to get people to relocate to this part of the country. It’s very difficult once they’re here to keep them happy because on their days off, they’re two and half hours away from anything.

Do you think that that might be part of the chef/skill shortage?

Definitely. I’ve been seeing/saying it for years – there is a problem with the industry. The industry is going to suffer, it’s only going to get worse because it’s not a life for people anymore, is it? I started cooking about sixteen years ago and it was accepted then to do sixteen hours a day and it was never about money, it was about wanting to be the best, to learn from the best and wanting to cook.

Where as now people want a life, they want to go and see their friends, they want to have partners, they want to have money. They see other people working and they say ‘what’s going on here? I’m doing two days in one, what’s the craic?’

Do you think that it can be fixed or do you think it’s just going to go downhill now?

I don’t know, I’m a glass half full kind of guy, I’m not one of those people that’s all negative about it. Things like what Sat is doing and a lot of other people are doing, it’s important now to look after your staff. You’ve got to give them a reason to work for you, you’ve got to pay them a good wage, you’ve got to give them good time off… Places like ours, it’s very difficult.

What are your plans for the future?

Joan, our owner sadly passed away, she’d been here for twenty-seven years and I loved her to bits, she was incredible. So we’ve obviously had to have a sit down and a think about how to move forward because you have to now. You can’t just carry on the way it was because she’s not here anymore so it wouldn’t be the same. So we’re going to push forward and we’re going to try new things and we’ve renamed it ‘Restaurant Gareth Ward at Ynyshir’ to give it an identity - then we can really push that product. We have also decided to make Ynyshir a restaurant with rooms open 5 days a week from September.

The idea is to make Ynyshir the destination restaurant in the UK, to re-establish it as not only one of Wales’ most revered destination restaurants, but of the UK too.

I’d love to own my own restaurant. My dream restaurant is like a teppanyaki-style bench serving ten people, with me and two other boys just cooking a surprise taster menu.

Have you done anything like that before?

Since I worked at Sat’s I’ve always had a chef’s table, I love that whole interaction with the customer. Every chef’s different and people say ‘you’ll never make any money’ but for one, I don’t really care, as long as the business pays for itself and I get some kind of wage that’s all that matters to me and two, I’m not interested in cooking for fifty, sixty people every day.

Restaurant Gareth Ward at Ynyshir

I really like a relaxed kind of service, we maxed out at twenty-eight and I love it. Because we do like a fourteen/fifteen course taster menu, it’s still a lot of food. It’s not out of control and you can really push yourself but take time in every dish. We’ve got people come in and spending a lot of money on the food, with that, you take your time and you produce the best you can. There’s no point in being here fifteen hours a day if you’re not going to enjoy it.

So do you think we’ll be speaking to you with your second Michelin star in September?

That’s a bit bold! It doesn’t happen overnight; I think it will take a good few years but hopefully we will one day. You’ve got to have goals.

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Editor 4th August 2016

Gareth Ward, Chef Patron, Restaurant Gareth Ward at Ynyshir